from across the street, kushibar could be some kind of animal pen. maybe one holding an especially dangerous animal, as there are large panes of glass just behind the horizontal wooden slats.
it’s not a pen, though, but the sizable (and actually very stylish and modern looking) sort-of-outside dining area of kushibar, filled with wooden tables. finally, a chance to feel like you’re eating outside without actually being outside.
the deck has mildly successful heat lamps, so it’s best when it’s crowded. you can peer out at the street through the slats if you like to watch second avenue happenings (drug deals, real change sales men, someone from uw getting sick after too much fun at amber), or can just appreciate the cozy sauna-ness (sans heat) of where you’re sitting.
there is less character inside kushibar, a new project from the gentlemen who brought us umi sake house. it’s tavolata with a touch of momofuku, a long room with high ceilings, pale wood, and an open kitchen. it’s sleek though not unique.
three menus were on our table when we began considering food. a traditional folded version in plastic sleeves, a half-piece of paper with daily specials, and a cube of wood with food listed up and down the sides. fortunately we located the cocktails with the help of our server, and i was able to have an intriguing mix of lychee infused vodka and sake clutched in my fist as i navigated the food situation. the drink was a touch sweet, but also extremely floral and aromatic as well as surprisingly successful with the salt and occasional spice of the food.
“kushi” refers to a stick or skewer in japanese and here you can get anything you want impaled upon one; any part of a chicken (livers, kidneys, gizzards, and so on), different mushrooms, all kinds of fish and vegetables.
the skewers are cheap, a couple to a few bucks. the eel was moist and had a sweet tang and a smattering of sesame seeds, the mushrooms were nearly unadorned and cooked to a moist and robust perfection. i washed my scallop wrapped tomato down with huge glug of lychee cocktail to erase the scallop version of fishy the big bite left on my tongue. the eggplant, however, was meaty rather than slimy, enhanced by bonito flakes and a delicate heat.
a light fried skin clung to tofu that disappeared on your tongue. more bonito flakes were piled on top and the cubes of tofu swam in a pond of dainty, well-salted broth. a little of the jelly fish went a long way, but i can hardly complain about the fact that it was gummy. what i can say is that chef billy beach knew to add the crunch of vegetable to it, and sesame for flavor.
in nyc, it seems a new ramen restaurant has been birthed about once a week since momofuku blazed the noodle trail. i miss the large noisy dining rooms full of clattering chopsticks, slurps, japanese beer, and cheap meals. particularly when i’m in ten-months-of-ramen-weather-seattle.
but kushi bar has ramen (and udon and soba and miso)! the house ramen ($11) is chicken or pork broth with pork, corn, egg, sprouts, and scallions and you could fit a decent sized watermelon in one of the bowls. the broth (i tried pork) was powerfully porky – if that doesn’t sound delicious…well, it was. there was a good heft to it, the kind where you knew that if you left it in the fridge a solid fat seal would form. it did not, however, feel overly oily and didn’t overwhelm the noodles.
these noodles (house-made) were just as they should be. soft but not over-cooked, they barely required chewing. the noodle to broth ration, however, was an unfortunate situation. as much as i love sipping broth, particularly when it’s well made, five cups is a little much. my noodles were gone before i’d made a dent in the broth and i barely had a memory of consuming any full-on pork pieces.
i worry that this could come across as a negative experience. my occasional complaints, however, did not a bad meal make. our check was gloriously low and i left feeling full and content and slightly buzzed. i can’t wait to return for an early happy hour, when i can sit on the deck in the daylight, or for an after-work cocktail and a bowl of the curry popcorn or the tofu. if kushibar were open for lunch, i’d be eating the ramen once a week.